Anne-Marie Slaughter, photo © PopTech
When women are asked if they think they can “have it all,” many will say yes. A few usually say, maybe not. It’s still so hard for women to juggle high-pressure careers, family, mental health, friends, and hobbies. They have to stay emotionally stable, stay physically fit, nourish a marriage—oh yeah, then there’s soccer, gymnastics, hockey games…. Can you do it without a team of experts, a house manager, a Nanny, a stay-at-home dad? I personally side with those that say Nope!
I could not do it—though maybe I could pretend. But inevitably, something would break. Something would be compromised. When I watch brave women trying to have it all, I can’t help but wonder…
Reading the now-infamous Atlantic article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, I was so relieved: here was a very successful woman admitting that there was a problem. I stopped feeling weak, stopped wondering if the grass really was greener. I asked today’s writer, Erica Korff, to give me her view because, when I was her age, there was no stopping me. I was determined to destroy the glass ceiling. Sliding comfortably into my 50s, I wonder whether I should have done things a little differently.
Join the conversation and let us know what you think!
—Dawn Carroll, Executive Director
“You’ve got the power.” It’s a simple motivational quote one hears throughout their lifetime. “You can be anything you want to be.” It’s what young adults today heard from their parents. But did every kid really grow up with these ubiquitous sayings?
Indra K. Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, grew up in a family whose beliefs were rather different. Her experience shines light on the realities of women and the struggle for equality.
In an interview, Indra talked about her mother’s reaction to her becoming the CEO of Pepsi. One would think that such a high position would garner praise and celebration. “Let the news wait,” Indra’s mother said. “Can you go out and get some milk?” That was her reaction to this life-changing news. “Let me explain something to you,” her mother said. “You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the board of directors. But when you enter this house, you’re the wife, you’re the daughter, you’re the daughter-in-law, you’re the mother. You’re all of that. Nobody else can take that place. So leave that damned crown in the garage. And don’t bring it into the house. You know I’ve never seen that crown.”
When Indra was asked in a more recent interview if women can “have it all,” her response reflected her mother’s beliefs and perspective. “I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all.”
Indra went into further detail, explaining the challenges of balancing work with her personal life. To her way of thinking, one must choose what they are going to be at a certain time—a mother, a daughter, a wife, or a worker. One cannot be all of those things in a single moment. Perhaps this is true. But does it really mean that women can’t have it all?
“Having it all” may mean something different for each person, but that fact doesn’t mean it can’t be achieved. Indra’s mother told her that she never had a crown to take home—but Indra did have that crown. It’s a sign that the times are changing. Still, “having it all” does not necessarily mean taking on multiple roles at the same time. One chooses, as from a basket. In Indra’s basket were a husband, two daughters, and a rewarding job. Indra may have to pick and choose at times. But that doesn’t mean Indra hasn’t succeeded; it only means she picks one role at a time, depending on the moment. In the end, she carries them all together.
I decided to ask my mother if she thinks that women can have it all. She has been extremely successful in her career, acting as the Executive Sales Manager for New England Home Magazine. I asked whether she had a mentor. She said she did not. Despite that, her views on the question are rather positive.
“I think that women can have it all,” she said. “I think everyone’s definition can be different. I think having it all can be hopefully having a loving relationship, a family, a job, and friends, and making it all work. It’s harder for women because that’s just the way it is; men don’t have to have that added pressure of ‘Oh I have to take care of the kids,’ so it’s a lot on a woman. I do think women can have it all but it is challenging.”
Next I interviewed my great-grandmother, who turns 102 this September. She’s an amazing woman: intelligent, funny, and very with it. She became a widow at a young age, and had to support the family on her own. An extremely hard worker, she now writes stories to share her successes and accomplishments. When I asked her about having a mentor, and what she thought about women having it all, she told me:
“I had Rabbi Zigmond who sponsored me when I worked at Harvard years ago. He supported me and motivated me. Having a job and having a family are two separate loves. Women can raise a family and have a good job, because it’s not the same kind of love for the work and for the family, but they both can get along.”
The women in my family seem to believe that women can have it all, but they recognize the same difficulties that Indra Nooyi described. It may not be easy, and it may require balance and a plan—but if you believe in yourself and work hard, it can all work out. You’ve got the power!